During the week, I teach four separate current events classes to a total of about 30 students. When I asked the group yesterday why they had chosen to take the class (via Outschool), each one of them expressed that they wanted to know more about why events are unfolding right now, as they are. If I only had an easy answer!
My current events classes are never particularly scripted, and tend towards veering down rabbit holes if the class shows an interest. But for the last 2 weeks, I've presented information that drew from one source: the protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At first, we talked about the history of protest in modern history (so, after about 1700). Then, we looked at the history of policing in America and around the world. This week, we have spent time discussing monuments, flags, and names on buildings. I've drawn inspiration (and some cool facts) from an article I came across in the New York Times titled What Does It Mean to Tear Down A Statue? The art historian interviewed for the article posits that statues are an attempt to immortalize someone or something from the past. And, given what we know about the Confederate monuments that dot the southeastern U.S., that is certainly true. The Daughters of the Confederacy spent significant time and money making sure that the Civil War would not be forgotten. Even today, according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, $40 million dollars was spent over a 10 year period on the upkeep of Confederate memorials.
The last few weeks have brought us more than demands to remove memorials of dead Confederate generals. Calls continue to eliminate monuments to Christopher Columbus and others who were involved in slave trading or colonialism. We have also seen NASCAR banning Confederate flags at races, discussions about changing the names of several U.S. military bases, and even calls for Disney to change the theme of the well-loved Splash Mountain ride. Most recently, the Quaker Oats company announced that they are retiring the Aunt Jemima brand of syrup, because of its origins in racist stereotypes. Editorials within the gaming community are calling for a change in how police and minorities are depicted within PC and console gaming.
So, I asked my students this week: is this a moment or a movement? Mostly 12-16 year olds, they seem to be taking all of this in stride. Overwhelmingly, they maintain that the changes need to happen. In fact, some seem surprised that the adults in the room have just figured it out. For them, it is a movement. I hope they are right. The time has long passed to dismantle the systemic racism that pervades our society. I love that I get the chance to discuss it with them.